What is Gender Jihad and is it necessary in Islam? (1)
In 2005 Dr. Amina Wadud led a congregation of about 125 women and men in an Islamic prayer service and the religion of Islam was thrust to the forefront of the media once again as the phrase gender jihad was popularly linked to the global movement of women seeking too reform traditionalist views within the context of Islam. That same year in Barcelona, Spain the first International Congress on Islamic Feminism was convened, drawing women from as far away as Malaysia, Mali, Egypt and Iran as it went about the task of addressing sexism within the Muslim world and the animosity of many secular feminists to Islam and thus initiating a new dialogue surrounding Islam and women’s rights within it.
The gender jihad or Islamic feminism movement emerged in the 1990s when female thinkers and scholars began publishing their research in the form of articles and books that explored the concepts of gender, Quranic interpretation, and traditionalist Muslim culture. Islamic feminism is a fairly new discipline and term that has yet to be formally defined in one concise statement, but according to Margot Badran, historian of the Middle East and Islamic societies and a specialist in gender studies, Islamic feminism is defined as a feminist discourse and practice articulated with an Islamic paradigm or standard. Ms. Badran goes on to explain that Islamic feminism derives its understanding and mandate from the Quran and seeks rights and justice for both men and women in the totality of their existence. The concept is still evolving and is currently under debate, but it has become a global phenomenon assisting in the transformation of Muslim society Muslim women speak out against practices that contradict the rights bestowed upon them from the God, Allah, more than 1400 years ago.
One of Islam’s greatest strong points and that which sets it apart from other world religions is how women were granted equal rights with men within the Holy Quran. Surah 33:35 reads:
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.
And also in Surah 9:71:
The believing men and women are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise.
Despite the above mentioned Quranic truths there are disparities between the lawful rights of men and women within predominantly Muslim countries and unfair treatment of women does exist within Islamic communities. Gender segregation, compulsory and mandatory veiling, forced early marriages, clitorectomies, domestic violence and strict domestic roles are some of the issues plaguing, Muslim societies, but certainly not limited to Muslim societies, and there is a segment of the Muslim community that views the integration of Islamic feminism into discourse about Islam as a way of solving some of these problems.
Writer, lecturer, activist and revert to Islam, Nasreen Amina, also known as Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, is a champion of Islamic feminism in her home country of Chile and discussed Islamic feminism at the Congress of Gender Studies when held at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina from May 22nd to May 24th, 2012. The lecture was entitled Feminism, Islam and Spiritual Activism, and one of Ms. Amina’s most outstanding remarks were concerning what she called a gender jihad. She defines gender jihad as a strategy of combining intellectual work and social activism for the rights of women and the implementation of social justice; an effort that can and has made a difference for women around the world.
When asked why Islamic feminism is a significant and relevant topic for discussion, Ms. Amina remarked upon how there are areas in the world today where women are recovering their rights to read the Holy Quran on their own. She also firmly advocates that women should be permitted to reflect upon Islam independently and should be able to pursue knowledge and to receive an equal education to that of men in addition to asserting that women should have free and equal access to the Masjid in pursuit of that knowledge. Sister Nasreen Amina is further concerned that some of the sacred texts of Islam and the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) might have been subjected to patriarchal interpretations that reduce the role of women to that of being inferior to men and she has thus made education and activism a priority when addressing Muslim women. She makes every effort to inform women of their rights in Islam for the sake of bettering their communities and she sees activism as the tool for achieving change within society.
Muslimah Writers Alliance member, Sidra Nasir has said, “I am taking a Women in Development Class and the issue of discrimination, limited opportunity and inaccessibility to vital services is seen in many communities. I think Muslim communities should be an example for others and this is why a reform must take place.”
Nasira Younis Hayat of Maryam Islamic Center in Sugarland, TX has affirmed by stating, “We need to rebuild our countries by educating ourselves and by understanding the spirit of Islam.”